Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) contains several obligations concerning cetaceans. States must legislate to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and must take measures to identify, monitor and set up protected areas for promoting the protection of species and the ecosystems. CBD provides a binding global legal framework but remains general: concrete measures to be taken for implementing the CBD on the conservation and use of species or ecosystems are determined by other conventions and global or regional measures (CITES, CMS, Natura 2000 etc.).


CITES regulates international trade in endangered species. Regarding cetaceans, trade involves the flesh of the killed animals, by-products (meat and bone meal (MBM)), their teeth (e.g.: teeth of the sperm whale and the narwhal horns), live animals, etc.

All cetacean species are listed in the CITES Appendices. Most threatened (23 species out of 85) are given in Appendix 1. This Appendix applies to whales and river dolphins among others. Commercial use of these species is prohibited. All other cetacean species are listed in Appendix 2, which means that their commercial use is governed by strict conditions. It should be noted that the main whale hunting countries have all expressed reservations about most species listed in Appendices 1 and 2, which allows them the import, export and transit of whale meat through the European Union ports.

Given that all species are protected by CITES, it is important for the tourists to know this before considering acquiring a cetacean based product (meat sold at the airport, engravings on the teeth or bones, etc.).

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) pertains to cetacean species including the endangered ones (these species are explicitly included in the Appendices of the Convention). Appendix 1 lists the species prohibited for hunting and Appendix 2 lists the species for which more specific regional agreements would be beneficial to their conservation. Among these existing agreements, some pertain to cetaceans. These are for example ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS.

It is important to note that Japan and Iceland (both whale hunting countries) are not parties to the CMS. In case of the species prohibited for hunting, Norway has introduced exceptions and can therefore legally hunt. Also note that CMS does not apply to Greenland and the Faroe Islands (under Danish sovereignty).
A memorandum of understanding was finalised in 2000 between the IWC and the CMS Secretariat.


ASCOBANS pertains only to small cetaceans in the North Sea and in the Baltic Sea. There is a scientific collaboration between the ASCOBANS and the IWC, particularly in the field of bycatch, chemical pollution and harbour porpoise. The Conservation Committee of the IWC and its Working Group on collisions of ships also refer to the ASCOBANS programme on this topic.


ACCOBAMS ensures the conservation of all cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Black Sea. This explains the extensive collaboration between the IWC and ACCOBAMS as well as the protective measures taken in response to threats in the region for large cetaceans. Cooperation is done through workshops, assessments, research and monitoring and mainly pertains to ship collisions and the conservation of the fin whale.

The cooperation agreement on research, conservation and management of marine mammals in the North Atlantic

This agreement laid the foundation for NAMMCO (the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission) in 1992 following the discontentment of the hunters States with IWC's anti-hunting attitude. Belgium is not a member of NAMMCO competent for regulating the hunting of small cetaceans in this area and organising various research programmes. NAMMCO currently includes Iceland, Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands (they are all hunters States).

The Habitats Directive

At the European level, the cetaceans are protected under the Habitats Directive which ensures their conservation and prohibits their hunting.